Delegates from the European Greens will pick their two Spitzenkandidaten in Berlin on 23-25 November, following the Green parties’ unexpected surge in Germany, Luxembourg and Belgium. EURACTIV.com has spoken to all three contenders.
Here is the portrait of one of them, Dutchman Bas Eickhout, who says he finds it more tempting to go against conventions rather than just blend in.
Eickhout was only 26 when controversial Dutch politician Pim Fortuyn was assassinated in 2002. “It shook the entire country,” he recalled.
The tragic event did not represent a political wake-up call per se for him. It was more a confirmation of how important it was to get politically engaged.
“It felt as if you had to fight for your values,” he said, referring to the assassination.
Just like he did not have a specific wake-up call, he does not have a specific political model.
“I never had one single example that really inspired me. I prefer people who go against the stream, who have a strong touch, someone like John Lennon,” he said.
“I find it especially important for politicians to go against the stream because it is very tempting for them to go with the flow. It is always challenging to do otherwise,» he explained.
Eickhout studied chemistry and environmental studies in The Netherlands (Radboud University), where he chaired the university’s student association of chemistry.
After his studies, he worked as a researcher at the Netherlands National Institute for Public Health and the Environment. He also worked on several projects involving climate change and the environment. He co-authored the IPCC report on climate change which received the Nobel Peace Price in 2007.
“That was in 2000/2001, and I became being politically active with the Greens,” he said.
“Being an MEP was my first political step,” he added.
He said he does not see any contradiction between chemistry studies and fight for the environment and climate.
“Environmental issues and chemistry do get along. Chemistry allows you to understand how nature works, as well as to understand the issue of air pollution or water quality, for instance,” he explained.
“Chemistry allows to get into details and that’s an asset in politics,” he said.
He stressed that an academic career alone cannot make things change.
“You can publish an article in Nature but it won’t change much in the sense that fighting against global warming and for the environment can only be achieved at the political level,” he underlined.
Eickhout has been a member of the European Parliament since 2009. He is the leader of the Dutch delegation and vice-president of the group of the Greens in the Parliament.
He is also a member of the Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety and a substitute member of the Committee on Economic and Monetary Affairs and the Committee on Transport and Tourism.
“Greening the economy and making Europe more social is at the core of my political agenda,” he said.
“This is big, I know, but after all, this is what you can expect from someone who aims at the European Commission presidency,” he added.
His other priority is to urgently reform the EU’s social agenda, he said.
“The EU is very good at the internal market, but it has to deliver for its citizens,” he said.
Right now, one has the feeling that freedom of services seems more important than social policies, he said.
“Take Ryanair, for example, there is no social protection for the company’s employees. It is a good example of a non-social project, of a company using the EU’s lack of social regulation,” he said.
“This is a disgrace, a failure of the EU,” he said.
The Dutch MEP pointed out that the EU still has not unified the taxation system.
“So what we now have is a race to the bottom between member states that allows companies to go for the cheapest,” he stressed.
“And that means lower income for countries so that they have to cut on expenditure like social security, schools or hospital.
On trade, he stressed that trade agreements should deliver on climate change and social aspects.
“If we don’t succeed there, people will turn their back on the European project,” he said.
“So it is crucial to show that there is a debate on social issues at the European level”.
He sees the European project as being currently under attack from the far-right, with the Greens being the real alternative.
“The Greens have a clear vision of where to go. And the populists have a clear direction too. In between, it is blurred,” the MEP said, adding that social democracy has lost its political colour.
He said anti-European forces will “for sure” grow in the next European Parliament.
But he does not want to fall into what he said is a trap of those who want to limit the debate to being for or against Europe, meaning between Emmanuel Macron or Viktor Orbán.
“As if there was no choice but to defend only the current EU,” he said.